Room 215

Wednesday 10:00am: It’s sunny outside and my partner and I are standing on the front porch. I tell him I really want this job, I feel good about it.

Wednesday 1:00pm: An hour has passed since my interview and I get a text from the principal offering me the job for Affective Needs Paraprofessional.

Rewind. Friday 9:00am: While looking at job postings in Denver Public Schools I google Affective Needs classrooms. One source states “self-contained classrooms for students with emotional disabilities that provide a strong emphasis on affective education, academics, and social skills programming”

Thursday, 4 Days Before the 1st Day of School, 2:00pm: I’m at a de-escalation and restraint training and I’m told if the child is below my belly button I stand behind him (him because it will likely be a him) and cross his arms before holding his hands to restrict his movement. I’m told if the child is taller than my belly button I will call for a team mate and we will approach the child on either side. With one hand we will hold his wrist, with the other we will press on his shoulder. We will do this until he calms down.

Day 5 2:00pm: The boys are not calm. Neither is the one girl. The man who taught me de-escalation is administering a restraint. The boy is 11 and the man is 5 x 11 but the boy doesn’t know that because instead of learning math he is being pressed against a chair and he’s hoping no one sees the pools in his eyes.

Day 5 2:20pm: I sit next to the school psychologist who I met 10 days ago. On the concrete step she sees the pools spill from my eyes and I tell her I didn’t realize this was what I had signed up for.

Day 5 6:20pm: My partner says I have a tendency to quit and I’m mad because there’s some truth to what he’s saying. I’m mad because there’s no way I’m quitting now.

Day 9: XP exits the class he was supposed to be contained in and busts into the class that contains the girl who can’t contain her silly faces and I push XP from the room to protect KA. XP is only 8 but he’s fueled with rage and I don’t blame him.

Day 12: It’s Saturday and all I can think is tomorrow is Sunday, and Sunday is the day before Monday.

Day 14: It’s Monday and the boys charge into the school spewing cuss words and the principal says we should look into having them enter through separate doors.
Edit: Day 14: It’s Monday and four students walk into school reciting words they picked up from peers and parents; the principal says we should look into having them enter through separate doors.

Day 21: The boys enter through separate doors.
Edit: Day 21: The boys are segregated further.

Day 24: The class contains one child and myself. We sit in the center of the room while he writes extra sentences to earn extra points to earn extra snacks. He’s on a roll when he realizes he can copy the first two words of each sentence to make a list of all the things he likes. He writes “I like” ten times on ten lines then fills in the blanks.

Day 31: Outside the classroom I catch my breath while two district officials brace each of the doors closed. Through the window of one door I see two hands pressed against the glass. In between them a face gazes out of the container. Eyes like wells.

Day 48: Inside the classroom I feel hot while two district officials peer through the window of a closed door. Eyes like mirrors to their pre-conceived notions.

Day 52: KB’s heart pounds under my palm.

Day 53: I call the custodian to replace another broken table.

Day 67: KA and I take turns reading Shel Silverstein poems.

Day 78: KA is backed into a corner. A bare room with nowhere to turn except the door I’m standing in front of. The police officer next to me tells me we’re enabling her; it’s visible in the way she turns on me and not him. She bites me and I turn away. Someone else takes a turn in front of the door.

Day 130: There’s a scene in the documentary 13th in which two prison guards walk on either side of an inmate, each holding an arm, as they escort him down a hallway. Flashback. I tell my partner that’s what we do at school. Some kids take the pipeline from school to prison. Some kids are already there.

Day 134: BP is new to the school, but not to being self contained. At his last school an aide drew a circle on the playground and told him he had to stay in it. He didn’t. At our school he says the red paint on the floor is blood.

Day 142: The Lost Fidget Spinner. An audio saga as told by BP, XP, GB, CW, KB, and MB. Duration: 5 hours and 38 minutes. No intermission. Rated R for language and violence.

Day 150: We all gather round a table and mix borax, glue, water and food coloring to make slime.

Day 180: It’s sunny outside and it’s our last day of school. We have a water fight between the students and teachers. No broken tables or pools of tears, just broken balloons and pools of water. We all laugh, and it feels good to laugh.

Saturday. It’s been 400 days since I was laughing with those kids and in those days I’ve laughed about the time XP lay on the ground as he yelled up at me “I’m gonna fucking kill you Ms. Johnson” and I’ve laughed about the time JH gave me the nickname Sabertooth because I have big teeth, and I’ve laughed about the text their teacher sent me telling me that MB said he “missed my English ass.” But laughter is just a remedy for a system that is sick. It’s our schools that are disabled not the kids they label, and while teachers count down the days til summer, the kids are counting on a system that teaches affective needs, but needs to be more effective.

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Tea Time

For a Brit, there is nothing more ordinary than tea.

Despite its commonplace status, there is nothing mediocre about it. Tea is revolutionary and for no other reason than feeling an urge to write, and inspired by the cuppa to my left, I will venture to back that claim up.

What first springs to mind is the Boston Tea Party. This is something I possibly learned about in 8th grade, my first year living in the States. All I recall from the lesson is that people threw tea into a body of water and thus gave fish the joy of tea also. To make up for being a lousy student during my grade-level education, I’ll pause now to see what the web can tell me about this so called “party.” It seems, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, that nearly 300 years ago in Colonial America, ever power-hungry Brits kept a tax on tea to show the colonials who’s boss. The crafty colonials stuck it to the man by getting tea from the Dutch instead. The commanding Brits went further to demonstrate control by letting the British owned East India Company monopolize and undercut the market. Colonials were royally ticked off by this so they rallied together and sure enough went on a devious night mission to chuck a bunch of tea chests off docked boats into the Boston Harbor. Blimey. Parliament then got the hump and tried some of the old punishment tricks, but colonials banded together and subsequently took part in a Revolutionary War, which they may or may not have won. Ok, they won. It’s neither here nor there for me personally. Good on ‘em for sticking it to the man. Shame about the tea though.

So, tea is revolutionary and for the majority of Brits and tea-lovers alike, our lives tend to revolve around tea. Some less historical, more allegorical examples:

The Morning Cuppa
Non-tea drinkers can easily relate to this if they are coffee people. It’s the cup that comes as a result of a programmed morning routine which likely entails a bathroom visit, a filling and flicking of the kettle, and perhaps a glance at a glowing screen. It’s the cup that is taken for granted and relished all in the same sip.

The Cuppa After Running Errands
This is the cup that restores you, that gives you will to live, and a reason to put your feet up. It’s the one you’re gasping for when you clamber back into the car for the fourth time. You get home, open the door, dump bags, and make a beeline for the kettle. Though brewed with the same precision as every cup since you perfected your technique in the early days of tea initiation, this cup often tastes remarkably better than most. Sheer bliss.

The Cup.
For my family, namely my mother, sister, and self, this is the cup that carries the weight of the world with it. Once consumed, all weight has been dissolved. This cup comes after someone says “put the kettle on.” Logically, one might think, but just as there are different values in each cup of tea there are different meanings behind each declaration for tea. In this case “put the kettle on” is said with a tone of urgency and elicits an understanding of what’s about to occur. Tears, primarily. Here “put the kettle on” means we need to sit a while, and we need the comfort of tea to get us through the hardships we are now ready to resolve. On these occasions, more than one cup of tea may be necessary. Maybe the first went cold due to excessive blubbering. Perhaps one cup prompted hunger and the second cup would be paired with a bit of toast. Regardless of quantity, this tea is the healer of teas, the glue that puts us back together, the remedy to all of life’s woes.

The In-between Cup
When you’re in-between tasks and it’s been an hour or so since your last cup, and it’ll be an hour or so till the next predictable cup (the one mid-morning, or after lunch, or when you get home from the errands), there’s the in-between cup. You had tea with breakfast, showered, sent some emails, then you pause for a moment to assess your next step – here is the perfect time for an in-between cup, a transition cup if you will, a mindfulness cup if you must. It’s an excuse to take a break and just be glad for the simple luxury of being able to have a cup whenever you please.

The Pot
Tea pot, not green pot, but maybe green tea (if that’s your thing). You’re feeling fancy. You just want to be a bit extra. You have company. You just got a new tea (or your mum just got a new tea and it’s a Darjeeling and you come to find Darjeeling isn’t just a posh sounding word reserved for the upper class but it’s a kind of black tea that is positively banging). These are all good reasons to brew a pot and pour yourself a few cups, or share cups with others.

The Evening Cuppa
This one wraps up the day. It’s the bow on the parcel, the cherry on the cake, the manbun on the hipster, the flowers on the hippie, the cute little ears on the hippo. You catch my drift. It pairs well with Netflix, books, mild cuddling that doesn’t interfere with mug holding, dim lights, and resting feet. It pairs best with biscuits (the dunking kind, not the American kind), a sneaky bit of chocolate, or anything that satisfies the sweet tooth.

To really back my claim up that tea is revolutionary. I’ll break it down with definitions.

1. Revolution: noun. A forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system.
While drowning perfectly good tea bags in anything other than a mug or pot of boiling water is inappropriate, and slightly offensive, it was (on one very specific occasion) revolutionary. In the case of the Boston Tea Party, it seems overthrowing tea did in turn bring about an overthrow of the government. Boom.

2. Revolution: noun. An instance of revolving.
From the morning cuppa to the evening cuppa and all the cuppas in-between, not only does a tea-drinker’s day revolve around the cuppa, but their life does too. If you don’t believe me, go on a road trip with my mum. Notice when packing that she will be certain to bring along an electric kettle, two mugs, a spoon, enough tea bags to overthrow a government, and some milk. Don’t bother telling her you can stop at gas stations and coffee shops that will surely serve tea, it’s not the same. It’s not about hydration and certainly not about convenience; it’s about having a reason to put your feet up, it’s about healing, pausing, feeling fancy, having company, complimenting cookies, and saying “ahhhh that’s a good cuppa.”

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Houguh?

For Christmas I received a $25 gift card for Barnes and Noble from the Board of Directors at the non-profit I work with. The card had been waiting patiently in my desk to be used when the right book was presented. I have lots of books I’m half way through reading, so I thought it appropriate to not run out with the gift card in haste, but instead wait until it had a purpose. Two weeks ago I went to Barnes and Noble to buy books for the youth I work with. Entering the store, they conveniently display bargain books with the prettiest covers enticing customers with immediacy. I was enticed. I hadn’t even entered the main store when a book titled “Hygge” had me stalling in the lobby.

Hygge is a word I had been seeing floating round the web, included in article titles that might say something like “5 Ways to Bring Hygge Into Your Life” or “How To Be The Most Hygge Ever.” It was starting to feel like the word epic, but instead of people getting hyped about the most awesome of things, they were getting hyped about the most cozy of things. Generally, the more hype something is, the less interested I am, but I picked up the trendy looking book nonetheless and was sold, or bought.

So last week, or whenever it was, I returned to the store with my personal gift card and purchased 224 pages of hygge hype. Its bargain price (perhaps indicating that the trend came and went in a flurry) means I still have $15 remaining on my gift card, so there could be a whole other blog to come on the next book purchase.

Anyway. Hygge is a Danish word that, from my understanding, is used to refer to moments and feelings of togetherness, comfort, things that please the senses, simple joys, and the absence of time constraints. You can youtube how to pronounce it, that’s what I did but am still unsure. Marie Tourell Soderberg, the author, ends the book with a hygge dictionary that shows all the ways it is partnered with with other words. For example, I’m all about tehygge which is hygge-ing with tea; Cam is all about hyggefiskeri which is going fishing to have a hyggelig time. Soderberg then invited the reader to make their own hygge compounds. With that, I’ll say the book has a very hyggevibe in that its pages are neatly formatted with Instagram style photos and small bite-size text. It’s a good job it was a bargain offer, otherwise it may have been a hyggeripoff due to the minimal literary content. Fortunately, I was content with the content.

 


The things that pleased and aroused me are as follows:

1. The concept of hygge parallels with the whole concept of this blog – to adorn life’s ordinary moments. Danish folk seem to be all about enjoying, and recognizing – which is why they have a word for it – the loveliness in a cup of tea by the fire, the delight in a long chatty dinner with friends, the comfort in family and cultural traditions. That there is a whole nation of people who have given language to a state of being and way of life that I seek to honor, is totally splendid.

2. Unexpected guests. Soderberg and the many ordinary Danes she interviews mention the little things they do to invite hygge when they have unexpected guests. I don’t know the last time I had an unexpected guest. Maybe in my teenage years living in England when a friend showed up to see if I was home, because neither of us had credit on our phones – if that counts. If it does count, I don’t know that we had a particularly hyggelig time with pancakes and meaningful conversation, but there was likely an air of comfort, ease, togetherness, and perhaps ganja.

Cam and I have been especially community minded since wwoofing. We stayed at a farm for three weeks on Vancouver Island with hosts who made a point of having communal lunch and dinners. This was a hyggelig time for sure. It has all the staples mentioned in the book I read, which is my one and only source for defining hygge. Lunch was on a bit of a time crunch but we were so hungry from working in the field that when it was time to eat our minds and mouths were so fixated on the fantastic array of food items we were less concerned with time and more involved in the experience of feasting. Dinners were much slower, more casual, and full of vibrant conversation. Apparently politics are not hyggelig, but we often got political at Ironwood farm.

Since moving to Virginia and cohabiting with my parents, we have revived the communal dining tradition. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners bring us together frequently but don’t always have the hyggevibe. I think as the traditions build though, the hygge will build – if that’s how it works, I don’t know.

What I want to build are the chances of getting an unexpected guest at the door. Why are we not doing this? It’s even frowned upon by some folks in the US. Arrangements need to be made, heads up need to be given, appearances need to be kept up. Bollocks to all that. I want unexpected guests I can make tea for and play cards with. Those are my #goals.

3. The more I read about hygge the more it seemed to me that the feelings of joy and presence attained when those dear old Danes are having a hygge time is due to the absence of time constraints. To really enjoy the moment, you need to be in the moment, and not worried about the clock. This is hard for me. I’m not an especially anxious person, fretting about the future. Nor do I feel depressed, dwelling on the past. One of my (many) struggles is the incessant imagining, planning, analyzing, and problem solving that my brain is embroiled in. Another struggle I have is not clock watching. I have a hard time being immersed in the moment, no matter how lovely it is, because I know it’s going to end. Kind of bleak really. I suppose it is somewhat anxiety related, but without the fear or physical symptoms I hear often come with it.

Hygge is about going with the flow, I’ve surmised. I’ve always thought of myself as that kind of a person but as work becomes more of a responsibility, one that I care about and am invested in, it’s not always easy to let time pass on by without that nagging voice in the back of my head telling me I should be “doing” more. So the book was a good reminder to keep balance in mind as I move forward in this world. I can relish in the present, delight in life’s little comforts, and do the things on the ever refreshing to-do list. I can have my cake and eat it too – but the cake will be much more hyggelig if I have it with family, friends, or even unexpected guests!

 

Sodeberg included in her book special hygge traditions and activities of her own, and of other Danes. Here are some of mine:

  • Traveling. Throwing agendas and to-do lists out the window and just rolling around like the tumble weed I saw driving to New Mexico on my very first road trip
  • Tea and cards with family. Making the same old jokes and drinking the same old tea.
  • Meals with Cam. When we lived together in Denver we would delight in the days we were able to eat three meals at the table together. These are times to talk about every little and big thing, and avoid doing the dishes for as long as possible
  • Baking. My grandmother taught me to bake in England. We used a balance scale with what I think were brass weights, and she taught me all her tricks of the trade. I don’t remember any of these tricks, and am learning my own as baking becomes more of a hobby, but I do remember that classy old scale.

 


As is done in the book, I’ll share a hyggebaking recipe with you.

English Scones
Scone:
2 cups of flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp cold butter
¼ cup whipping cream
¼ cup milk
1 egg

Toppings:
Jam – strawberry is traditional, blackcurrent is a nice alternative, but whatever strikes your fancy
Whipped cream – ideally, the kind you whip by hand, not the kind in a can

In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Add the butter by slicing it or cutting it into a few chunks and dropping it into the bowl.
Rub the butter in using your fingertips, until it resembles bread crumbs.
Mix the cream, milk, and egg in a separate container, then add to bowl.
Gently incorporate until it forms a dough.
Place the dough on a floured surface and roll out to ½ inch thick.
Cut out circles using a cutter or random glass about 3 inches wide.
With the last scrap of dough, too small to be rolled and cut, form the disc shape in your hands instead – this scone is always my favorite because it’s the unique one of the bunch.
Bake for 15 minutes at 400°

While the scones are baking, pour the remainder of the whipping cream carton into a bowl and mix with an electric whisker (or whatever device you use for that sort of thing)

Scones are best served warm with a cup of tea.
There is debate around how to build the scone. I cut mine in half and on each side I put jam, and then cream on top. Lovely jubbly.

Today

It was about 7:40am when I woke up and looked at the time this morning, and I thought to myself “Oh golly, I really indulged today.” For the next nineteen minutes I did some social media scrolling and when the little numbers at the top of my screen got in the 7:59 formation I hopped out of bed fulfilling the motive to be up before 8:00.

Soon there after, Cam and I did one of our breakfast dances. This was the one in which we artfully coordinate our separate breakfast choices to be table-ready within the same sixty seconds. His was the usual fried egg accompanied by whichever carb and fruit grabbed his fancy in the moment; mine was the recent favorite – muesli with cinnamon, turmeric, and diluted almond milk. This is a serious upgrade from the Kellogg’s fruit and nut I ate every morning for about 5 years. I’m 28 now so I eat muesli. Cam doesn’t call it muesli, he calls it “oats with an assortment of breakfast ingredients.” At the table we broke our fast by listening to NPR and doing the daily sigh in response to what the “orange idiot” has gone and said now.

Breakfast was followed by my third job: Words with Friends. After cursing my mother for securing yet another triple word score, basking in the delight of winning a few of my games, and strategically trying not to run up the score on granddad, it was time to put my breeches on. Breeches for the yanks, jodhpurs for the Brits, equine attire for anyone still unsure. In the far back of a closet under the stairs I found my riding clothes, and once the stiff boots and half chaps were zipped up I really looked the part. Having not actually ridden for over a year, and having not ridden consistently for at least ten years, I did feel like a bit of a poser. Fortunately, I redeemed myself (to myself, because no one else was paying this any mind) by remembering how to tack a horse, sit the trot on the right diagonal, and identify a correct canter lead. My legs were undeniably sore within the first 5 minutes of trotting, and I will likely be resenting all stairs tomorrow, but it was worth it to get back to doing something I’ve always enjoyed.

Not only was I able to get back in the saddle, but I was able to do so in 60-degree weather in the middle of winter. It would have taken some serious motivational self-talk to get me out there in cold temperatures. Lucky for me, todays weather had me reminiscing about Costa Rica. I would never have anticipated Virginia could remind me of a region lined with golden beaches and filled with rainforests and volcanoes, but I would have never anticipated I would be cohabiting with my parents at 28 eating muesli and listening to NPR either, so there you have it. The familiarity was in the feeling of warm, humid rain. I love it. It’s like being draped in a temperate, damp towel. Cozy, right?

On the drive home from the barn I was thinking how amazing life has become since I stopped standing in my own way. For years I blocked myself from living the kind of life I really wanted, that I was really capable of, and even deserving of. Since I’ve quit being such a diversion to myself I’ve been able to enjoy and appreciate so much more of life, like the amazing omelet I had for lunch. Once I’d washed the horse stank off me, I whipped up an egg pie without the crust and it was superb. If you must know, it consisted of two eggs, a splash of milk, a slice of pepper jack cheese, a cut-up slice of gourmet ham I recently splurged on, and a handful of baby kale. To really knock my own socks off, I paired it with half an avocado and a dollop of cottage cheese. Outstanding.

With that, I was ready for my second job: Barista at Little Green Hive. The shift started with bagging teas, not to be confused with tea bagging. When the boss left I had the typical mini rush to deal with, this time entailing four teenagers who sand bagged (restaurant speak for being weighed down by too many orders at once – which I learned when I did this to some cooks who were not pleased with me for doing so and I since strive not do) me with a mocha, a turtle mocha, an almond milk cappuccino, and a steamer. It is so hard not to judge someone who orders 12oz of steamed milk. After the mini rush I rewarded myself with a half-caff (half espresso half decaf) dirty chai, because too much caffeine makes me anxious, and half a muffin, because too much muffin makes me a heffer. Much to my delight and utter dismay, I was then given a bowl of dessert by the wonderful gal who owns an Asian eatery next door. She is from Cambodia and is always whipping up cultural culinary delights and offering them to her business neighbors, maybe her home neighbors too, I don’t know. Anyway, she gave me a bowl of simmering coconut milk with pumpkin, tapioca and a bunch of other things I couldn’t identify. It was slightly sour and had the potential to trigger a bit of a gag reflex but I pushed pass that feeling and ate about half the bowl, because I consume everything in halves apparently.

Walking from work back to my car it was drizzling but still a fine temperature. I cracked the window slightly and listened to Sia on my way home because I was feeling both emotional and theatrical and her music just seems to cater to that kind of a state of being.

At home I was greeted by the fella, followed by the dogs, then the parents. With little convincing, Cam agreed to go on a walk with me around the neighborhood. The way street lights reflect off wet tarmac has always been something I’ve found beautiful. This time I was transported to Alameda Ave in Denver; at times it seems those lights go on forever and on rare rainy nights the street gleams endlessly.

Back at the house we sat down for neck bone soup and French bread. I acquired the neck bone earlier this week, not before calling Cam and asking if it was an appropriate substitute for ham hocks. Everyone’s satisfaction at dinner was confirmation that the neck bones are indeed a good substitute, if not a superior alternative. For me, dinner is often followed by dessert but it shan’t be today as I already had half a muffin and half a bowl of sweet soup, which equals a whole dessert. So, I think I’ll just go put the kettle on now and call it a night, and a very good day indeed.

Resettling in Roanoke

Late September, I drove 1,500 miles from Denver to Roanoke with my mother in my worn out yet still determined little Cavalier. We started late in the afternoon from Cottonwood Riding Club – the barn my mum worked at for about 12 years, and my first sense of belonging to a community after moving from England to Colorado. It was quite the serendipitous turn of events providing a real sense of closure in my Colorado chapter. Our first pit stop was an hour south east of Cottonwood in the town of Elizabeth where my step dad’s parents live. Apparently I’ve got a knack for this whole closure thing because their house was certainly my first sense of home in the state. After a quick cup of tea, and acquiring two boxes of PG Tips to squeeze in the car, we set our sights on Kansas. In the beautiful, highway-straddling town of Colby we checked into a Quality Inn, inhaled some sandwiches, split a beer, and collapsed on our beds. We slept like we needed it, which means we barely slept at all.

The next morning, shuffling in the dark drizzle, we loaded our few overnight bits back in Cavalier and set our sights as far away from Kansas as possible. Perhaps Kansas tried to help us glide away by offering up a fun hydroplaning opportunity, or perhaps losing control of the vehicle on a long road trip with little sleep is just our luck. Either way, mum demonstrated her constant ability to handle adversity with a calm focus and good laugh thereafter. Well done mum. By lunch time we had finally come out the other end of a storm and stopped for a lunch that consisted of meat, potatoes, and vegetables – a proper dinner, if you will – to appease the mother and her stern beliefs about the superpowers of certain foods. For the next six hours we talked about the book she’s going to write, listened to podcasts featuring charming Irish poets and progressive comedians, played your average alphabet themed road trip games, and admired the car’s performance in its old age.

That night, we stopped at the same motel we had stayed at when I helped her and Steve make the same move across country. I could argue the 12 hours of driving left us without the energy to look for motels, but most accurate is that we are undeniably creatures of habit. When we saw the familiar building with lights shining on us from the side of the highway we were instantly delighted to stick with what we know – particularly knowing how to get there, which was a real challenge for us the first time trying to understand its frontage road access.

Day three was the most exciting because it was the day we would get to Roanoke, but even though we would be driving less hours than day two it felt longer due to the anticipation. It was quite emotional. Come 5pm we had made it to the local grocery store and were getting some assortment of dinner items that involved “good” bread and cheese. This due to another of mum’s entrenched beliefs about what one ought to eat after three days of driving; I’m confident she could justify a food pairing for any possible situation life might throw at you.

The following week and a half I was without my “other half,” though I wouldn’t actually call him that because I try to be intentional with my words and believe that we are all whole individuals who shouldn’t imply we need someone else to make us feel complete. Nonetheless, he certainly enriches my life. That aside, I spent this time finishing the basement Cam and I now live in, securing two jobs, becoming a regular at all the thrift stores in search of furniture, and playing a lot of cards with mum. Thankfully, by the time Cam arrived I had managed to make the basement look like some kind of a home, and then had to do it all over again after unpacking his Jeep and trailer.

Our basement domain is now a cozy sanctuary that opens into Cam’s budding farming business. Walls are adorned with paintings by friends and family, photographs from the Canada Sabbatical, and elaborate calendars to organize our respective projects. Sharing a living space with my parents and my partner has been interesting to say the least, and will continue to be so in ways I’m yet to learn. There are the obvious challenges, like how to strategically hide our ice cream so Steve doesn’t succumb to temptation, and more obscure ones, like how mum can explain to Cam her quirks around strictly using the hand towel for hand drying and the tea towel for dish drying. Overall, I’m amazed each day at all the little ways this multi-generational cohabitation is fun and rewarding.

Mum and I motivate one another to get our bake on – especially after indulging in an afternoon cuppa while we watch The Great British Baking Show. I’ve now pummeled dough three Sundays in a row and (if the Pan De Muertos currently in the oven turns out alright) have actually created multiple edible configurations that resemble bread. It seems Cam has sparked a fuse in Steve to make moves on a part-time home business initiative that is now materializing in the garage. Perhaps it’s somewhat lame to be eating left overs amid dinner table discussions with the folks on Halloween weekend, instead of dressing up and socializing with peers, but until Cam or I actually make a friend out here I’m just appreciating the slower pace of life this habitat is allowing for.

Commuting to work in Denver could easily mean 30 minutes of examining brake lights, throwing my hands up in angry gestures, and crisscrossing through the city grid to get to a job 5 miles away. My commute now is 20 miles and a consistent 27 minutes. Instead of break lights I examine the way the light breaks through the trees at different times of day, and my hands stay rested on the wheel while I cruise along a winding state highway through rolling hills. Having grown up a country girl I feel a sense of familiarity in this new environment. I’m still learning how to calm the anxiety that crept up on me my last year in Denver. Starting a new job comes with some stress, and I naturally acquired two sources of income, but I’m in a much different space now – mentally and physically. When I wake to see the mist hugging the belly of Roanoke mountain, and in the afternoon stroll through market stalls, then fall asleep with a belly full of home cooked food, I’m reminded not just of where I came from, but how I want to be – aware of the beauty that surrounds me, a part of a community, and (if I can remain so fortunate) especially well fed.

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The drive to Roanoke

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October Beans from the market

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Hiking through Explore Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway

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My first go at bread making – honey oat loaves

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Cycling along side Roanoke River

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Picking up some spuds at the farmers market

Mile High Goodbye

Well Colorado has been home for just about as long as the UK was, and tomorrow I am moving to Virginia to start a new chapter.

Last night I couldn’t sleep, replaying the horrible events that led me to move here for a second time. From that day on I watched from afar as my dad, still in England with all three kids living State side, struggled to dodge societal cracks and stay afloat in a sea of few supports. Meanwhile, I bloomed – slowly but surely in this dry and sunshiney state.

The first time I moved to Colorado I was 12 and the first of my siblings to cross the pond. My mum and step dad were living in an apartment in Littleton that to me (coming from decrepit barns my dad had renovated and a row home heated by a coal fire) looked like something from the MTV show Cribs. The two bathrooms and walk-in closets were awesome enough without the luxury of a community pool and hot tub. Talk about the American dream.

Middle school was a nightmare. On my first day I got on the yellow school bus with my mum and brother (visiting at the time) waving me goodbye. When school let out that day I walked outside mortified to see 20 identical yellow school buses without a clue which was mine. Fortunately I recognized a kid and hopped on L2 or whichever damned bus it was. I made it through eighth grade having my locker neighbor open my locker every day for three months until I figured it out, and wearing mostly hoodies due to my pubescent sweating problem that, I’ll have you know, is only exacerbated by more layers.

The summers before and after eighth grade I helped out at the horse barn my mum worked at, assisting with pony camps and riding difficult horses – like Blondie who I would canter around the polo arena for an hour so she could let off steam and hopefully not buck off the little novice riders she often sent hurling to the ground.

High school was an even worse nightmare. My freshman class had more people than my entire secondary school back in England. I didn’t understand the system, and didn’t really want to either. Over Thanksgiving I went to visit my dad and brother in England (my sister had made her move across the pond that summer), told my dad I wanted to stay, and much to my mothers understandable dismay, he let me.

The following two years were spent building an incredible group of friends, who filled the gaps left from a disjointed family. Joints were plentiful during that time however, except we called them spliffs. I smoked a lot of weed, drank a lot of vodka, ditched a lot of classes, barely got my GSCEs, started taking ecstasy at free parties (the rural British equivalent to a rave), and woke one night to the sound of yelling. At that point my brother had made his journey across the pond so it was just me and my dad living in that coal fired house. I’ve written about that night in another blog so will spare myself the details, but at age 16 I watched my dad threatened and humiliated in a way no child should ever see at any age. The next morning he said we were moving. Two weeks later I had a flight booked from Heathrow to Denver.

I returned to Littleton, this time to the Foresthill house that would stage years of memories, with a rage and reluctance only capable of a teenager. My ever wise and trying mum with her magic cups of tea, sat me down one day and reasoned with me to start over, to make the most of my situation, to give this place a chance.

Twelve years later, at the ripe old age of 28, I’m sitting in my pjs in the bunkbed room I’ve been living in for the past two months and can say I’ve truly made it. In all seriousness though, I’m blown away by all I’ve experienced and accomplished living under these blue skies, a mile above the oceans I played in as a child.

I graduated from that big scary high school, and nine years later I graduated from an even bigger and scarier school called Metro State University. I’ve made even more incredible friends, and become part of an amazing step family who have helped fill any remaining gaps. My two best friends from England have both come to visit, one of whom I almost killed hiking at altitude. My grandparents have visited twice, and my dad once came for a whole month – every day looking up at the blue sky with awe and appreciation.

Within this [no longer] hidden gem of a state I’ve hiked my butt off in the majestic Rocky Mountains, danced my heart out at the temple that is Red Rocks, and found a sense of belonging in a community I could have never dreamed of. Two days ago I went to visit the non-profit I volunteered and worked at for about 5 years. The kids welcomed me with beaming smiles and open arms – and if that doesn’t heal a heart I don’t know what does. As I sat and talked with one of the mothers I’ve become friends with I was reminded that anything is possible. On my first day working as a group leader for the after school program, a girl new to the program got upset and left the school premises. I followed her panicking and called her mum to let her know what was happening and that I was at a loss for what to do. My supervisor later told me I should have called her first. Whoops. The mum was mad, rightly so, and questioned my ability to be responsible for her child. Four years later I’m hugging the girl and her mum goodbye as I get ready for my move.

Two and a half years ago I met a Colorado native who taught me how to fish, how to maintain healthy communication in a romantic relationship, and shows me the depths of love every day. In return I’ve taught him how to make a real cup of tea, how to see each situation with a lens of empathy and humanity, and shown him what I know about traveling. To his family, please forgive me for snatching him from a state everyone wants to come to and no one wants to leave. To everyone we’ve met and loved and laughed with along the way, please come visit us as we give Virginia a chance, and learn what else can be.

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Photo taken on Guanella Pass, Colorado, 2014

Dwelling, hustling, and loving

I’ve been wanting to write a blog since the return from Canada and have been having a struggle seizing inspiration. It’s easy when you’re traveling; everything is new and different, exciting the senses, and it feels natural to want to share it with others who are unfamiliar. Back home, familiarity can leave you taking life for granted. That’s not what I want. The purpose of this blog is for me to adorn those ordinary moments we may forget to appreciate. So now I’ll make an effort to light up some of those moments in the last few weeks.

We moved in with a friend as a temporary lodging solution to our two month stay in the Denver area before the move to Roanoke. When initially looking for potential accommodation, we expected it to be a breeze – who doesn’t want to share a bit of space with a couple nice folks for some bonus money? Turns out, it’s not that simple. It occurred to me that people like their space, they value it, they take pride in it, seek refuge in it. Just because people have the physical space to allow for more bodies to dwell there, doesn’t mean they want to share dish duty, or consider the TV volume, or feel obliged to converse first thing in the morning while in the midst of the breakfast routine. It has me ruminating further on our dwelling habits and housing structures, and what do I seek in accommodation? But that’s another subject all together.

Shauna enthusiastically let us bunk with her, literally. In her spare room Cam and I sleep on the bottom level, full sized mattress of a bunk bed. It’s not what conventional society expects of a couple in their third year of relationship together, and I’m content not living up to the convention. We’ve all had our challenges adapting to roommate life – Shauna having her refuge subject to scrutiny (though we never would), Cam spending nights in someone else’s home, cooking in someone else’s kitchen, without me, and myself striving to make it work for everyone. But adaptation is what this earth is made of, so I’m not worried, and I know when we look back on these two months we will smile and laugh at it all. I’m already laughing every time Cam and I bang our heads on the bunk bed clamoring in and out of it. Sometimes we all watch Big Brother together, and on Sunday’s Shauna texts us updates of what’s happening in the Big Brother house, and who won Head of Household. One time Tical (the Wu-Tang Mouse Dog) ate some of Cam’s beef jerky while we were loading up the Jeep for a weekend trip; he called her a little B and we ate what was left of the jerky in the somewhat slobbery bag because that stuff is expensive! I’d rather a messy life with beautiful people, than a tidy life without.

Upon the return from Canada, I soaked up four more days of leisure before being thrust back in to server life. It’s a life so hard to escape and I’ve resolved to make the most of it for now – which means indulgent sleep and lazy mornings, since I mostly work nights. I gave the morning shifts a try, one day being at work at 5:30am and the next day 6:00am. Money has never been a big motivator for me when it comes to work, which seems paradoxical but I’ll happily work more hours for less money doing what I like, than less hours for more money doing work that sucks my soul. Serving is no exception. Breakfast shifts are the money maker, but 4:00am is not a time when I want to leave the comfort of the bunk bed. So I work nights, much to Cam’s dismay, and it’s not too shabby. There have been slow nights that are great for shooting the shit with coworkers I’m going to miss, there have been busy nights when I’m the only server and feel like an Olympian multi-tasking power walker, and one semi slow night when I fucked up every table to make up for my awesome track record of not fucking things up. Such is the life of a server.

Outside of work, when I’m not enjoying lazy mornings, or sometimes simultaneously, I’m either crossing things off the list for the big move, or I’m soaking up as much time with pals as possible. It’s only really struck me in the last couple days how I might be quite sad saying goodbye to so many incredible people. I think I live for two things – working badly paid jobs with youth, and my relationships with others. The former I can no doubt find in Virginia, the latter I can find too, but none the same. Last night I text a friend at 11pm, she invited me over, we drank wine, painted face masks on each other, and chattered for hours. Goodbyes will be hard, but I have experience. I know what it’s like to look at someone through foggy eyes and know I may never see them again. I know what it’s like to feel distance, but not disconnect. I refuse to believe that connections break, maybe cell phone service or wifi connections, but not those between people. So even though there will be a gap in proximity, there will be no gap in our connection to one another, and if we do want to ease the distance thankfully we have Snapchat.

IMG_1535Enjoying a cuppa at the local tea spot – In Tea, Littleton